Not all fried chicken is created equal, and we have some under-the-radar tips and tricks for creating lip-smacking fried chicken that'll have everyone wanting to steal your secrets. Whether you're making chicken for dinner at home or a picnic outing, these small measures will create big-time improvements in your fried chicken game.
1. Cut up the chicken properly
Satisfy both dark meat and white meat preference but using a whole chicken cut into pieces. Whether you cut up the bird yourself or buy it pre-butchered, it pays to go an extra step and cut each chicken breast into two or three pieces. Smaller breast pieces will have a cooking time more in line with the legs and thighs. The breasts will also be less prone to overcooking, as large chicken breasts tend to get golden and crispy on the outside before being fully cooked on the inside.
2. Make a marinade
The secret to succulent fried chicken starts with a marinade or brine, which keeps the chicken at its peak juiciness. Fried chicken traditionalists generally choose a buttermilk marinade while others swear by a brine, which is a mixture of sugar, salt and sometimes spices dissolved into water. Up the ante by going the route of a buttermilk brine. Into 1 cup of water, stir in 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and spices like smoked paprika, stirring until dissolved. Add 3 to 4 cups of buttermilk to finish the buttermilk brine. Then soak the chicken, refrigerated, in the brine, overnight before proceeding with the recipe.
2. Don’t rush it
The best fried chicken needs a long and luxurious soak in the buttermilk brine. Aim for the chicken pieces to spend at least 24 hours in the liquid with a maximum of 48 hours.
4. Season generously
Sure, you’ve already had the chicken sit in a buttermilk brine, but that’s no reason to skimp on more spices and salt. Adding salt during each step of the fried chicken process is a key to banishing blandness, while you can pump up the flavor even more by adding spices to the chicken's coating. For the breading station, add items like chile powder, garlic powder, cayenne powder, salt and black pepper to the flour dredge. For the milk, stir in any wet condiment, such as hot sauce or Sriracha.
5. Use the correct cooking oil and temperature
While a deep fryer isn’t needed for the perfect fried chicken (a cast iron pan with a few inches of oil is fine), the type of oil used is crucial, so be sure to choose one with a high smoke point, such as canola or peanut oil. Heat it until the oil temperature is around 335°F — the best temperature for chicken that's crispy on the outside and cooked through but still moist on the inside. A thermometer is the best way to determine that the oil is the proper temperature, but an easy way to determine temperature without a thermometer is to flick a little flour into the hot oil. When the flour sizzles upon hitting the oil, it’s frying time. Another genius tip for extra flavor: Season the cooking oil with a few pieces of ginger, peeled garlic cloves, bay leaves or other seasonings, before cooking the chicken. Just fry the aromatics in the oil when warming; remove and discard before adding the chicken.
6. Ditch the paper towels
Don’t ruin all your hard work creating golden fried chicken by placing the finished product on a layer of paper towels. This can cause the chicken to steam, making all the crispiness turn soggy. Instead, cover a baking sheet with a wire rack. When each fried chicken piece is finished frying, carefully transfer to the wire rack. The chicken will cool with the excess oil dripping off the rack, all without ruining your masterpiece.
Need more fried chicken inspiration? Try one of these winning recipes:
This article was originally published on July 6, 2016.